Apply Cost-effective Approaches to Reinvent Worship Spaces for Virtual Services

The global pandemic has challenged worship community leaders to be as nimble as ever, forcing them to respond to increased need for inspiration and direct outreach, even as attendance and revenue streams shrink. Many are embracing digital technologies and new platforms to bring virtual services directly into congregants’ homes. The success of worship-at-a-distance during pandemic distancing orders—documented in a Pew Research Center survey late last year—has led congregation leaders to consider novel approaches to redesigning brick-and-mortar worship spaces, including integrating broadcast and recording studios with state-of-the-art equipment.

The video recording studio is fast becoming a popular enhancement for both new construction and existing places of worship, allowing congregation leaders and community members to create content for distribution online and elsewhere.

Not every congregation has the means for major renovations or upgrades, but many of those who can count land as an asset are exploring redevelopment opportunities, creating vibrant mixed-use complexes that serve their communities in new ways while bringing in new sources of income. For those who have the financial capacity to reimagine their spaces, the video recording studio is fast becoming a popular enhancement for both new construction and existing places of worship, allowing congregation leaders and community members to create content for distribution online and elsewhere, gather and organize via videoconferencing platforms, and share inspiring sermons and services.

A team led by Body-Lawson Associates Architects and Planners recently had to make adjustments mid-design phase for Holy Trinity Baptist Church, Brooklyn, N.Y., when the pandemic changed church representatives’ needs and goals for the project considerably. The plan in motion for redevelopment included demolishing the original structure and building a new mixed-use complex with apartments above a new street-level church with sanctuary, offices and support spaces. With a creative midstream redesign, the development makes room for a new video studio at the rear of the site near the vestry, large enough to accommodate a full band of musicians and an engineering booth with upgraded electrical and data infrastructure, as well as acoustic interventions for a professional-quality sound. When it’s complete, the facility will allow clergy, staff and others to record and livestream services, talks and meetings—bringing the community together no matter where the members are.

It is certainly possible to apply cost-effective approaches to accomplish something similar in an existing church with attention to solutions tailored for the original construction and project parameters. Still, whether a retrofit project or a new-construction challenge, an audiovisual amenity of this kind can serve as part of a larger strategy to help secure the future for a congregation. What follows are some additional considerations for this kind of project:

PLAN FOR VIRTUAL SERVICES

For existing houses of worship, wires and visible speakers and lighting equipment might negatively impact congregants’ connection to the divine. Installing cabling for power, signal and data must be contained or concealed in ways that avoid it becoming a trip hazard.

The ideal solution is a standalone room that can serve two functions: a video recording studio and a remote-control booth for recording and broadcasting from the sanctuary and other locations onsite. The primary goal is to be able to share services live or after the fact on YouTube, Facebook and other popular platforms with someone operating a mixing board for optimal audio quality. Equipped with soundproofing and sufficient electrical capacity, the studio also should be able to support rehearsing and recording of music. This can create enhancements for broadcasts, podcasts and other outreach, as well as serve as a potential revenue stream with musicians renting the studio to lay down tracks.

MANAGE INFRASTRUCTURE

It is critical to the success of such a project that utility services reaching the audiovisual facilities don’t skimp on power. The project teams should verify that electrical capacity can support professional-grade equipment, especially the power-intensive lighting fixtures and lamps used for high-quality video production. For existing houses of worship, including historic buildings, this presents special challenges: Upgrading power infrastructure may require partial demolition to be seamless—an important consideration for the sanctuary where unsightly wires or visible speakers and lighting equipment might negatively impact congregants’ connection to the divine. Installing cabling for power, signal and data also must be contained or concealed in ways that avoid it becoming a trip hazard. And while investing in upgrades of this kind, church leaders should simultaneously put resources into state-of-the-art broadband and Wi-Fi capabilities.

BALANCE PERFORMANCE WITH VALUE

These kinds of projects often appear very costly, especially when retrofitting an existing space. Congregation leaders should work closely with architects, engineers, audiovisual specialists and other consultants on the goals for a video studio and the expectations of what such an investment could yield in the near and long terms with respect to new membership, revenue and other metrics of success.

In all events, it’s better to consider costs and benefits at the outset rather than during construction, when the value-engineering mindset creeps in and can undermine scope, facility capacity or audiovisual needs. If the resulting studio is prone to electrical shortages, poor acoustics or sound bleed from other spaces—or any other issues that detract from performance—then it will be less likely to yield the hoped-for benefits.

IMAGES: BODY-LAWSON ASSOCIATES ARCHITECTS AND PLANNERS

About the Author

Victor Body-Lawson, AIA
Victor Body-Lawson, AIA, is a Nigerian-born architect and founder of Body Lawson Associates Architects and Planners.

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